Aztec Religion

6, 7, 8

From books and research, young people read about the Aztec Empire practice of human sacrifice, which was seen as a gift to help the community. Discuss the concept of sacrifice for the common good and debate individual rights and community responsibility when taking action for the common good. 

Print One Fifty-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • explore opportunity cost of doing things for the common good.
  • Reference books about Aztec civilization and religion (see Bibliography)

Macdonald, Fiona. You Wouldn’t Want to be an Aztec Sacrifice! Danbury, CT: Franklin Watts, 2003. ISBN: 0531146022

Stein, R. Conrad. The Aztec Empire. New York: Benchmark Books, 1996. ISBN: 0761400729


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Many ancient civilizations and religions practiced some form of human or animal sacrifice to appease the gods and ensure prosperity. Even today, some cultures practice ritual sacrifice of bits of food or crops to ensure continued abundance. However, no one practiced human sacrifice to the degree of the Aztecs in their devotion to appeasing the gods. The Aztecs didn’t always practice human sacrifice. Sometime around 1450, the growing Aztec empire was experiencing severe drought that lasted for four years and destroyed their valuable corn crops. The Aztec priests encouraged the people to sacrifice blood to the gods to regain their favor. In desperation, the Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people in a few weeks. By awful coincidence the rain came and restored the corn crops. With this powerful evidence, what do you think the Aztec leaders learned? Soon the practice of human sacrifice became a necessary ritual to maintain the lifestyle they built. This leads us to wonder how far we should go to sacrifice for the common good.

  2. Have small groups or individuals read from texts about the different gods and religious practices of the Aztecs. Discuss the following:

    • How are religion and government linked in Aztec society?
    • Why is war such a major part of their culture?
    • How do they view life after death?
    • How did the victims (and their families) view their role?
    • What is the purpose behind these sacrifices of humans and did they always have the common good as the ultimate goal?
  3. Discuss how far a community should go in sacrificing for the common good. What is the relationship between individual rights and community responsibility in this case? Were these people denied individual rights? Human sacrifice is not acceptable or appropriate, but are there some ways giving and generosity can ask too much of an individual?

    What are some (current and reasonable) responsibilities we have to the community that help everyone?

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Examine several examples of philanthropic traditions practiced in diverse cultures.
      2. Benchmark MS.5 Discuss examples of groups denied their rights in history.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Give examples of <i>opportunity cost</i> related to philanthropic giving by individuals and corporations.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.